Gay groups reach out to Ashburn
by Dan Aiello
Gay rights groups this week reached out to state Senator Roy Ashburn, after the conservative lawmaker acknowledged he is gay following his arrest last week on drunken driving charges.
Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol at around 2 a.m. on March 3 in downtown Sacramento. Sources have told media outlets that Ashburn had just left a gay bar in the area.
While in office, Ashburn has compiled a solidly anti-gay voting record. He told a Kern County radio station Monday that he has no regrets about the votes he has cast against gay rights legislation.
"I am gay," Ashburn told radio host Inga Barks. "And so, those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long. It is something that is personal, and I don't believe I felt with my heart that being gay would affect how I do my job."
In response to the senator's admission, organizations advocating equal rights for gay and lesbian Californians at both ends of the political spectrum have publicly offered to meet with the embattled legislator.
"He's not only been a strong opponent of gay rights, he's gone out of his way to be an anti-gay legislator," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying organization.
"And we don't believe the people of Bakersfield support discrimination, that they believe anyone should be denied a place to live, should be fired from their job, should be denied public accommodations or should be harassed in schools because they're gay," added Kors.
"But he voted against each of those rights," said Kors, referring to Ashburn's votes on Equality California-sponsored legislation over the last three years.
In fact, Ashburn received "basically a zero percent" rating on the advocacy group's legislative scorecard, according to EQCA spokeswoman Vaishalee Raja.
"He even went on tour with the Reverend Lou Sheldon to advocate repeal of California's existing domestic partnership laws," said Kors, who pointed out that there are other legislators representing the same area who have supported equal rights, "and won by large margins."
Charles Moran, the spokesman for the California chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, said Ashburn's story is about the legislator's personal internal struggle, not his political party affiliation.
"It has little to do with party, it has everything to do with Roy Ashburn," Moran told the Bay Area Reporter . "Politics is still an extremely conservative industry, both on the Democrat and Republican side. Roy Ashburn made the comment that his is a very conservative district and I think that's right, and he voted on behalf of his district. That is the starting point for talking about Roy Ashburn."
During the radio interview, Ashburn said he felt he was representing his constituents with his anti-gay votes.
"I felt my duty, and I still feel this way, is to represent my constituents," he said.
Moran said that closeted gay politicians often have anti-gay voting records.
"Yes, it does frustrate us," said Moran of the embarrassment Ashburn has caused with the events of last week. "The problem is people who live in the closet think that if they vote anti-gay it will help them to continue to preserve that image. One of the ways people in the closet protect their secret is by voting against any legislation" supported by the LGBT community.
That, said Moran, is why Ashburn's statement that being gay did not affect his ability to do his job is false.
Kors said that living in the closet is tough to do.
"I won't speak to what [Ashburn] went through," said Kors. "Living a life in the closet is very difficult and everyone goes through a journey in coming out."
He also said EQCA hopes to meet with the senator, who is termed out of office this year.
"We hope to meet with the senator and work with him," Kors said. "We hope he will use what he's learned from this journey and we hope that we can work together to educate people about the need to support equal rights for everyone."
Moran said that Log Cabin also hopes to meet with Ashburn.
"I've seen where people are expressing outrage that EQCA is calling for working with Ashburn," said Moran. "We will definitely extend the olive branch to him. I know people in our community are angry. I know that people are calling this hypocrisy. But if there is nothing positive that comes out of this, then we've done a disservice to our community. If we don't use this as an opportunity to educate, then it becomes a negative for the coming out process and for the community. And that's an area that [EQCA's Geoff Kors] and I are in complete agreement on."
Moran told the B.A.R. that over the last several days he's been overwhelmed with media inquiries and calls from Republican candidates, including "one of the candidates for governor," seeking a way to respond to the Ashburn incident. He did not name the gubernatorial candidate.
"His coming out was clearly rushed and if there's anything that Log Cabin Republicans can do, we'd like to help to make this an education experience, rather than an episode of shame," said Moran. "There's a lot of room for redemption for Roy and I hope he accepts the offer from the community to understand and educate him to who his constituents are."